High profile corporate collapses and judicial commissions of enquiry have shone the spotlight on the possible role of auditors in these matters. In what can be considered a step by the Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors (IRBA) to strengthen its ability to investigate such allegations, it published its new disciplinary rules effective from 01 April 2022.
In terms of these rules IRBA has the authority to perform search and seizure operations on any registered auditor’s home or office with consent or under the authority of a court authorised search warrant. During the search the authorised person has the right to open any safe, cabinet or container which is believe may hold evidence, as well as question any individual on the premises who is believed may have information that pertains to the investigation.
Although extensive and invasive in nature, the rules have built in safeguards to ensure a just and fair process which would not unduly infringe on an auditor’s rights. These include that:
- a certificate must be obtained from the chairperson of the IRBA disciplinary committee authorising the IRBA representative to enter the premises and search for any document or item that may assist in their ongoing investigation.
- despite the certificate, the person who is apparently in control of the property must give consent for the search and seizure operation to be conducted.
- without asking for consent at the outset or if consent is refused, the IRBA must obtain a court issued search warrant
- the authorised person conducting the search has the responsibility to conduct the search discreetly, as quickly as possible, and in such a manner that they only disturb areas and items that could reasonably relate to the investigation underway at the time.
- the authorised person may inspect and if necessary, retain any relevant information for the purposes of its investigations they may also make copies of and take extracts from such information
Given the requirements and safeguards associated with the process, auditors should be alive to these rules and their rights should they be faced with a search and seizure based on either a search certificate or search warrant.